South Sudan: How to move from relief to development

Betty Achan Ogwaro, South Sudanese agriculture minister. The country's new membership to the Food and Agriculture Organization is a big step from relief to development. Photo by: Giuseppe Carotenuto / FAO

South Sudan, along with Brunei and Singapore, was admitted as a new member of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization at FAO’s 38th conference last week at the U.N. agency’s headquarters in Rome.

This big step for an unstable and volatile nation — the world’s newest — that suffers chronic food insecurity from endless droughts and floods, South Sudanese agriculture minister Betty Achan Ogwaro told Devex on the sidelines of the meeting.

“The government declared agriculture its highest priority, besides security,” she said. The challenge now is moving from relief to development, and that is where South Sudan need’s FAO help.

Ogwarom explained how membership at the U.N. agency can help the country’s development and build peace with Sudan, and what new strategies the government is implementing on the ground to achieve these goals.

Here are a few excerpts from out conversation with the South Sudanese agriculture minister:

What does the membership mean for your country? What are your expectations?

It’s important for South Sudan to become a member because there are other benefits that go with membership. […] Outside FAO, South Sudan is not able to benefit from the funding that comes through FAO. We want FAO to move away from humanitarian relief to more development activities […] not emergency funding. Real funding comes only when you become a member and you can also contribute.

South Sudan is facing a critical situation. What are the food security challenges? How are you going to address them?

More than 85 percent of the population lives and depends on agriculture […] We still till the land using traditional means […] Each farmer cannot cultivate a lot because of the poor tools of cultivation, poor seeds  they still use the same seeds that have been recycling. Although these seeds are good because they are now indigenous genes, [so] we need improved seeds to increase the productivity and [move] away from using animals to a more modern technology like tractors […] We are also still in rain-feed completely, and rain-feed agriculture is not really safe.

What are the priority sectors, the actions and the programs to push?

Improve productivity, increase production by supplying farmers with improved seeds, […] by bringing in tractors in areas where they can be used […] We are now also encouraging banks and financial institutions to give loans to progressive farmers so [they] can purchase, equipments, tools, seeds [and] working with the Ministry of Roads to improve accessibility […] We have areas in South Sudan where there is a lot of production but it cannot be brought to the market.

But you still need emergency interventions. How can we link emergency and development, for example, to build resilience?

We always still need emergency [aid], we are still fragile […] There are areas that are still in conflict, still prone to problems like draught and floods. How can we build the farmers’ resilience? First, we have to build their capacity, then train them on how improve their productivity in a way they can sell part of their crop, but also keep some for emergency reserves, and manage the high post-harvest losses. Farmers should [also] grow crops that have nutrients, they have to diversify and diversification helps the farmers to have resilience.

What are you concretely asking FAO? What kind of financial support?

I would be wanting finance to increase production and productivity, but increasing production and productivity has so many layers. One is capacity building, not only of the farmers, but also of the extension workers. […] FAO has been helping already on emergency basis, now we want in a more developmental basis. Then for the crops, we are looking at the improved seeds, market accessibility and marketing. We also want FAO to work with South Sudan to make [our] commodities reach the wider markets: regional and international.

Is there a role for civil society, NGOs and iNGOs in this process?

Civil society is very crucial. We want these organizations to come together to look at the priorities of South Sudan in general and then we can place international NGOs to work in different areas, so that there is no competition, no duplication, no overlap. At the moment this is still not happening very well, but we are now working toward it.

Do you envision partnerships with private sector?

One of our priorities is public-private partnerships, but also private-private partnerships. […] We are encouraging investors from outside to partner with farmers.

There is an issue of resources.

Resources are very limited. South Sudan at the moment is really being seen as a volatile country [and] mobilizing resources internationally is not easy. We have not managed to succeed to attract a lot of investors […] The level of assistance with the needs of South Sudan is not enough because the needs are quite high: Everything at the moment is also done as a priority. Besides food insecurity, everything else is [also] a priority.

The area that is most critical in terms of security is the border with Sudan, where there is also the issue of the refugees. What are you asking the international community? How can you guarantee security for international organizations?

We are receiving a lot of refugees coming in from Sudan, which actually increases the food insecurity of the South. […] People [there] cannot grow their crops because they can get shot. Food insecurity is not only in the south, but also in the north. That international development organizations should not watch us fighting each other, [but] intervene [and] encourage peace and dialogue.

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About the author

  • Elena L. Pasquini

    Elena Pasquini covers the development work of the European Union as well as various U.N. food and agricultural agencies for Devex News. Based in Rome, she also reports on Italy's aid reforms and attends the European Development Days and other events across Europe. She has interviewed top international development officials, including European Commissioner for Development Andris Piebalgs. Elena has contributed to Italian and international magazines, newspapers and news portals since 1995.